New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Your new managing agent wants to get familiar with your staff, but finds no reference letters or much else in their files. So the agent suggests to the board it might be prudent to do belated background checks, since without them the building's families will never know of potential dangers until, perhaps, it's too late. But you're reluctant, since you don't want to create bad feelings, or give the impression you don't trust the staff. And anyway, it's a union building, and background checks on existing staff aren't allowed. Or are they?

When preparing for an annual meeting, it's important for condo and co-op boards to focus on "election administration" — notice of meeting, the proxy, voting for board members and counting the vote.

A READER ASKS: Our small co-op is undertaking a façade restoration, and we're wondering if we should include the balconies within the scope of work. Many of the balconies have cracks and stains, and some have what look like icicles on the undersides that drip water. In addition, the metal railings are showing signs of wear. Most of our balconies are covered with an artificial turf and have aluminum covers along the edges, so we're hesitant to rip up everything if we can get by with fixing the loose railings and patching the undersides. What should we do?

It's an all-condo / co-op edition of Ronda Kaysen's "Ask Real Estate" column this week in The  New York Times, with questions covering staff, a renovation and not being able to collect common charges from a dead guy. The first query wonders about the difficulty of switching from a union staff to non-union, the next about who's responsible for renovating a departing super's apartment — the answer not as obvious at it may seem — and the last about a late unit-owner and a condominium apartment for which no one appears to be a successor owner, and so can the condo board rent it out? There's an odd theme of loss and decay running through the column this week. Perfect for autumn!

Many co-ops and condos have public websites. Many more have internal websites where residents can schedule repairs, read building documents, pay their monthly charges online and do myriad other things. You know what most co-ops and condos don't have? A building-specific social network platform — sort of you and your neighbors' own private Facebook. So, filling that gap is the recent startup MyCoop, which says that 341 buildings so far have signed up for the free service. Its founders say they "believe that the more neighbors talk to one another the more great things will happen. For example, your old couch could be someone’s new couch, your solitary childcare could become endless playdates." Because laundry-room bulletin boards and chatting in the lobby are sooooo 20th century.

Dean Starkman, a board member of a 12-unit Brooklyn Heights co-op. negotiated with a lender to refinance the mortgage on his apartment, a fairly routine affair. He had assembled all the required paperwork and, he recalls, "the last piece of the puzzle was our certificate of good standing as a corporation." At that point, the lender informed Starkman it was putting a hold on the deal because the co-op's corporate status had been revoked. How could that be?

In large co-op and condo complexes with several fulltime staff members such as supers and porters, it is quite common for those employees to pick up extra income on the side by doing work for shareholders. While this has its benefits, such making for a happier staff and giving residents easy access to reasonably priced labor that they can trust, it can lead to trouble if it is not properly monitored and supervised.

A READER ASKS: It's really beyond time for our board to enact a pet policy. We've been putting it off, but buyers are asking questions. We know it's going to be a hard road. What can we expect?

HABITAT ANSWERS: Few things are more contentious for a board than balancing the needs of pet owners and their non-pet neighbors. On the one side, animal lovers speak of their dogs — and that is universally the issue (cats, fish and often birds are essentially given a pass) — with almost religious fervor, mentioning unconditional love, emotional support, and lifelong bonds. The other side is usually filled with words like "property values" "bite," "dog crap" and "the constant smell of urine."

One of our most popular articles — believe it or not — is "Window Air Conditioners: An Engineer's and an Architect's Guidelines … and Warnings." It mostly addresses installation. And as we now ease into the cooler months, offers this handy feature on removing your window a/c for the season. Among the tips: Get someone to help you, watch out for splashing water and don't expect your insurance to cover your liability if you drop it on someone on purpose....

The Energy Detective: The Case of the Baffling Blockage

Written by Tom Sahagian on October 02, 2014

New York City

A lot of folks who used to work for me still stay in touch, and not long ago, my pal Nate e-mailed me with a real puzzler. A building at which he was working was converting from steam heat to hydronic (forced hot water) heat. A hydronic heating system has the potential to cut a building's heat and hot water consumption in half — or better — if the existing system is steam.

But there is that little matter of correct execution. To achieve its full savings potential, a hydronic heating system generally must include four things: a low-water-content boiler or boilers; the ability to vary boiler output over the full range of the heating load; variable speed pumps; and room-by-room heat control.

Ask the Experts

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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